The scene was festive and elegant in the dining room in the Palmer Campus of Trident Tech's Culinary Institute on Tuesday evening (July 14) as the enthusiastic staff at the institute's on-site restaurant and 50-seat dining room teamed up with the Boston Beer Company to present a terrific six-course Samuel Adams beer dinner. They paired some new varieties and classic styles of ale and lager with an exquisite menu.
In recent years, the Culinary Institute expanded the Trident Technical College's Palmer Campus and offered advanced training to the restaurant and hospitality industry — for both industry professionals and for the community. Culinary Institute Dean Michael Saboe, his assistant Gaynor Mueller, Hospitality department head Patricia Agnew, and most of the institute's chefs, instructors, and students were on hand. They welcomed special guest presenter Bob Cannon, one of the head brewers at the Boston Beer Company's headquarters (he's the guy with the big beard and the shaved head in those dynamic Samuel Adams beer commercials). Funds raised from the $85-per-plate tickets benefited the Culinary Institute.
Attendees met representatives of the brewery in the foyer where they could sample and vote on two possible new releases (a pilsner and an amber ale). For the past few years, Samuel Adams has sponsored a contest where they ask the public to vote on which they like best. This year's winner included the Samuel Adams Blackberry Wit, which was featured in the menu this evening. (I voted for the "Sample B," the amber ale).
A casual pre-dinner reception featured delicious soft pretzels baked by the institute' artesian bakery and beer-steamed mussels paired with samples of the award-winning Sam Adams Light, an ale with a light malt flavor and a bright hop aroma. Charleston Beer Exchange co-owner Rich Carley joined me at Table 6, alongside Jan Pearlstine Lipov, Larry Lipov, and Chuck Marquardt — all three of whom run the longtime Charleston company Pearlstine Distributors (the local Anheuser-Busch distributor).
Cannon explained the use of citrus and grains of paradise in the Samuel Adams Summer Ale during the first course of shrimp and citrus salad (orange and Asian pear), a nicely lemon-accented pairing to start things off.
The second course was one of the biggest hits of the evening. Chef/instructor Kevin Mitchell's perfectly seared, Cajun-spiced red snapper was served over "Texas caviar" (a light black-eyed pea salsa) and a zesty mango salad, paired with the malty-sweet Samuel Adams Irish Red ale in the brewery's peculiarly tulip-shaped "perfect pint glass."
Up next was pan-seared duck with a blackberry gastrique and a petite hoe cake. The rich flavor of the duck suited the tart fruitiness of the sauce, which was reduced with a bit of the Samuel Adams Blackberry Wit — the new seasonal ale that accompanied the course. While so many microbrewed fruit-flavored beers cross the line with too much sweetness and overpowering fruit flavor, the Blackberry Wit holds way back and achieves a unique balance of flavors between the graininess of the wheat, the spiciness of the coriander and orange peel, and a subtle, crisp berry flavor.
The staffers and students in the kitchen and dining room maintained a steady pace from course to course, bussing cutlery and dishes and serving the bottled beer and new dishes with care and courtesy.
An intensely rich and tender Kobe beef short rib braised in (and served with) Samuel Adams Cream Stout was a favorite at Table 6 — and Cannon admitted that his brewery's Cream Stout was one his personal faves, too.
"It always has a place in my fridge," Cannon told the diners in his thick Bostonian accent, "perfect pint" in hand. "I really like this beer, particularly in the winter. It goes well with roasted meats, so this a very inspired pairing. A lot of people are afraid of dark beers; they think that because its black its got a lot of alcohol, but that's not true. These beers are not big in alcohol or difficult to drink ... I think if you can't drink eight or ten pints of stout, you're not really trying hard."
Other courses included a deeply chocolatey ancho-rubbed lamb rib served with the mahogany-colored (almost black) Samuel Adams Black Lager (a lager based on the Schwarzbier specialty brewed in Thüringen, Germany), and fennel-crusted salmon with a mustard-accented sauce served with the flagship brand Boston Lager (the company's versatile, amber-colored rendition of a dark German lager).
The dessert course featured two special creations on one plate — a very small slice of an apple-walnut-cream tart made with stout, and a chocolate gelato infused with macerated cherries over a vanilla bean creme fraiche and Samuel Adams Cherry Wheat Foam. Serving any type of beer with such sweet and delicate dessert dishes may normally seem odd, but the brewery's light Cherry Wheat complemented the chocolate and vanilla flavors nicely.
In an exciting finale, Cannon brought out a brassy, lauter tun-shaped bottle of the brewery's rare Utopias — a barrel-aged "beer" with a hefty 27 percent alcohol (by volume). At over 50-proof, it's officially the strongest beer in the world. Served in a small wine glass, the vibrant, dark-amber concoction — a blend of beers that have been brewed over the last 10 years, and aged in various woods and casks — it looked and smelled more like a brandy and tasted like a sweet port/bockbier hybrid.
The students and staff at the Culinary Institute plan to continue organizing beer-themed events like these in the coming months. If they're as flavorful and bold as this one, they'll score high with local diners and beer enthusiasts every time.